cover image They Went: Travel Writing CL

They Went: Travel Writing CL

Andrea Lee, Ian Frazier, William Knowlton Zinsser. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $19.95 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-395-56336-6

These essays, which originated as a series of lectures at the New York Public Library, have been carefully edited by Zinsser ( On Writing Well ) so as to preserve the energy and liveliness of the writers' speech. Although the authors entertain with travel anecdotes, some charming, some hair-raising, their insights into the genre of travel writing are unextraordinary. For Mark Salzman, who taught English in China, a ``bleak or beautiful'' landscape means nothing ``until a person walks into it, and then what interests me is how a person behaves in that place.'' On a more practical note, Ian Frazier concludes that the only acceptable mode of transportation for seeing the U.S. is a car, even though his driving tour through the Great Plains ``sent two and a half tons of carbon into the sunny skies.'' Because the authors have written elsewhere about their travels, the references here to their experiences feel truncated. Still, these fragments can be engrossing, particularly Tobias Schneebaum's account of a tribe of cannibals in Indonesia. Set down in their midst by helicopter--stark naked so as to better assimilate--Schneebaum knew not whether he would be welcomed and fed or welcomed and eaten. (Mar.)